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Pacific links: China challenge, an “Elevation”, power lifting, more

Between a Step Up, Reset, Uplift and Elevation, plenty of diplomatic attention is focused on the region.

Honour guards for the visit of Vanuatu's Prime Minister Charlot Salwai to Beijing in May (Photo: Fred Dufour via Getty)
Honour guards for the visit of Vanuatu's Prime Minister Charlot Salwai to Beijing in May (Photo: Fred Dufour via Getty)

  • Last week, China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said his country was willing to deepen military ties with the Pacific. Later that week, Hugh White set out why he believes China might set up a military base in the Pacific. He also said Australia should stop trying to push Beijing out of the region and should instead focus its effort on building a force that could counter Chinese bases in the neighborhood.

    White’s concerns were echoed last week with the extradition of six Chinese from Port Villa to China, where it appears Chinese authorities have succeeded in placing Chinese law and legal standards above those of Vanuatu. Pundits worry about the erosion of Vanuatu’s democratic rights at Beijing’s bidding. It also reminded me of a similar story in 2017, where 77 Chinese nationals were deported from Fiji by Chinese authorities.

    The events last week made for interesting timing after a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Taiwan and the Solomon Islands for the development of a national sports stadium.
Hugh White with Lowy’s Richard McGregor this week
  • With Brexit just around the corner, France is soon to become the only residing European Union country in the Pacific. As a consequence, the French ambassador to Fiji has been nominated as the new Head of the European Union Delegation to the Pacific Region. This occured after French President Emmanuel Macron put into effect an amendment to French Polynesia’s autonomy statute, underlining the contribution of the territory to France’s ability to obtain a nuclear deterrent following its nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific.

    Nonetheless, Pacific churches called out France and the United Nations over the issue of decolonisation of French Polynesia. Separately, Anthony Bergin argued for a deeper co-operation between Australia and France, not only in the Pacific but also in the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.
  • Violence has increased in Papua New Guinea. Stefan Armbruster reports on the massacre of 16 people, including pregnant women and children, in Karida village, in Prime Minister James Marape’s electorate. Marape said in a statement it was “one of the saddest days of his life”.

    The PNG leader has also to deal with the question of Bougainville’s independence, which is supposed to be held on 17 October, and touching on a complicated mixture of business concerns, environmental worries and geopolitical interests stretching from Australia and New Zealand to China, Japan and the United States.
  • This analysis by CSIS looks at how the US could re-engage in the Pacific. Watch the launch of the analysis here, which also features our very own Pacific Aid Map.
  • In a speech at the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, British High Commissioner to New Zealand Laura Clarke talks about the UK Pacific Uplift, the shared values between Britain and the Pacific, climate change and the oceans.

    Shortly afterward, David Attenborough, the iconic voice of television documentaries, complained that climate deniers are in power in Australia, watching on as the Great Barrier Reef disappears. His concern about natural treasures surely resonated in the ears of Solomon Islanders, after earlier last year a tanker crashed into a UNESCO protected marine site in the archipelago and last week 5,000 tonnes of bauxite slipped into the water at the site while being loaded on to a barge, colouring the water red.
  • A major Indonesian trade show has kicked off in New Zealand, as part of efforts by Jakarta to win over Pacific allies. After Australia’s “Step Up”, New Zealand’s “Reset”, Indonesia has its “Elevation”. And it is not the only non-traditional Pacific actor interested in the region. The United Arab Emirates have received Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga, to hold talks on expanding ties between the two countries.
  • According to Not-for-profit aid sector, DFAT’s reliance on contractors such as Palladium, which Julie Bishop just joined as a board member, is a problem for the Australian government.
  • Australia has an aim that 80% of its aid investments, regardless of their objectives, will address gender issues in their implementation. Alice Ridge argues the new infrastructure spending under the AIFFP should do so as well.
  • To round out, some sport facts. The biggest Pacific Games in history have been declared officially open in Samoa. Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is competing in the archery challenge. You can follow the overall medal tally here. New Caledonia is still in first position.

    Last week, Nauruan powerlifter Jezza Uepa, a was crowned strongest man on the planet, squatting 407.5 kilograms, benching 264.9 kilograms, and deadlifting 300 kilograms!

Pacific Research Program

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